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From now on, no talk of school politics during Friday bowling

April Griffin loves to bowl, though she doesn't boast about her average.

The newest School Board member says she's lucky to best 120 on a good night. Really, bowling offers Griffin a cover for quality time with family and friends.

During her yearlong campaign, Griffin often would talk school politics between frames. Now that she's elected and immersing herself in all things school district, you might think the topic would consume even more Friday night conversation.

Instead, Griffin will be running from the topic when she enters Terrace Sports.

Why? Her regular bowling buddy is fellow board member Susan Valdes, who represents much of western Hillsborough.

While they had no restrictions on their discussions before Nov. 21, the two friends now face state sanctions if they talk about public business privately.

"We just won't talk about any board business," said Griffin, who lives in Seminole Heights. "I take the Sunshine (Law) very seriously. ... Back-room deals are no good."

Board chairman Jack Lamb, a past president of the Florida School Boards Association, says it's a good idea for his two colleagues to give some serious thought to any contact they have with one another outside the boardroom. If they decide to continue their bowling ritual, he adds, perhaps the school district should list it in its monthly notice of every event that more than one board member will attend.

The bowling "might plant seeds in some peoples' minds, and that's why they have to be extra careful," Lamb said.

You don't have to look far to find examples of school boards that have run into Sunshine Law problems, real or perceived.

Pinellas County board members Mary Russell and Janet Clark, for instance, recently raised questions by repeatedly calling each other on their district-issued cell phones on the days that board meetings were scheduled.

School district lawyers cautioned the two in early 2005, after they conducted two private fact-finding tours without other board members, that their actions could be perceived as illegal.

No legal action took place. Russell lost her re-election bid this year.

Diane Rowden was removed from the Hernando County School Board in the early 1990s for violating the Sunshine Law.

She resurrected her political career more than a decade later and, as a county commissioner, refuses to talk to her colleagues except for called meetings.

Griffin says following the spirit and letter of the law won't be a problem: The families have plenty of other things to talk about. "I think our families are very happy that we can't talk about it anymore," she said. "Now we can focus on them."

What's your major?

If you thought it was tough to pick a major in college, imagine the struggle next year's freshmen face.

They're the guinea pigs in Florida's latest education trial, where high school students must earn four credits in a field of study beyond their graduation requirements. Students can change their majors after an annual review.

Future middle-schoolers will be given some career guidance as early as sixth grade to help the process along.

The idea, advocates say, is to give youths a taste of the subjects that might inspire a future career. Maybe, just maybe, they'll get as focused as their Japanese counterparts, a majority of whom attend university prep rather than comprehensive high schools.

So what are the exciting majors approved by the School Board?

There are the usual academic ones, including foreign languages, the different sciences, history and math.

There also are the ordinary tech-prep fare, such as culinary arts, landscape technician, computer technology and even nanny (some are pressing for a more PC term like child care).

Then there's a small group that jump off the page. Consider animal and plant biotechnology at Alonso, or sports, recreation and entertainment marketing at Gaither and Wharton. Sickles will offer food journalism and entrepreneurship. Leto and King will have fashion academies.

For a full list, check out item 1.02 on the Nov. 21 School Board agenda, www.sdhc.k12.fl.us/boardagenda/search/.

And, remember, if you don't like the choices at your assigned high school, the school choice application season starts today and runs through Jan. 26. For an application, visit www.sdhc.k12.fl.us/choice/pdf/Hchoice_application.pdf.

Have opinions about this column, or ideas for future ones? Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5304.

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